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Authors: Suzanne Fisher

The Search

BOOK: The Search
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 Lancaster County Secrets 

Book 3

The Search

A Novel

Suzanne Woods Fisher

© 2011 by Suzanne Woods Fisher

Published by Revell

a division of Baker Publishing Group

P.O. Box 6287, Grand Rapids, MI 49516-6287

www.revellbooks.com

E-book edition created 2010

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—for example, electronic, photocopy, recording—without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.

ISBN 978-1-4412-1420-1

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

Scripture used in this book, whether quoted or paraphrased by the characters, is taken from the King James Version of the Bible.

Published in association with Joyce Hart of the Hartline Literary Agency, LLC.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

For Steve,

who has been such a supportive and kind husband

that nobody would believe it if I were

to write him into a book!

Thank you with all of my heart.

1

______

It was a June morning, hazy with summer’s heat, and Billy Lapp was already bone tired. Only one person on earth could wear out an eighteen-year-old farm boy, and Billy happened to be her hired hand. For over two weeks now, Bertha Riehl had met him at the barn door of Rose Hill Farm with a to-do list that seemed to grow longer with each passing hour. Bertha’s granddaughter, Bess, was coming for a summer visit, and Bertha wanted the farm so spic-and-span clean a body could eat off the barn floor. Which, Billy knew, meant he would be the one scrubbing that barn floor until it shone.

He didn’t know why Bertha felt her farm needed sprucing up. So sauwer wie gschleckt.
It was as clean as a whistle.
The vegetable garden ran neat and tidy from the kitchen steps down to the greenhouse, beside the yard where she stretched her clothesline. Why, hardly a rose petal dared to wilt without Bertha flying out to the fields with a pair of pruning shears in her big hands. And besides that, folks visited each other all the time. But then Billy remembered that something was not quite right between Bertha and Jonah, her son, Bess’s father. He had left years before. Billy didn’t know what had caused the rift, but he knew enough not to ask. Bertha could be private like that, keeping her business to herself.

“Could you tell me something about Bess?” Billy had asked Bertha the other day as he helped her turn the mattress in the spare bedroom she was readying for Bess.

Bertha flipped her end of the mattress and let it slip into the wooden bed frame with a soft sough. “Like what?”

“Well, how old is Bess now?” He vaguely remembered a towheaded, skinny wisp of a girl coming in from Ohio a few years back when Samuel, Bertha’s husband, passed.

Bertha raised an eyebrow at him, as if she thought his motives were highly suspect. “Old enough,” she said, lifting her big chin. “But too young for you.”

Billy sputtered. “I wasn’t asking for that. Besides, me and Betsy—” He stopped abruptly. He knew how Bertha Riehl felt about his Betsy Mast, and he didn’t want another lecture about thinking with your head and not your nether regions, a comment at which he took offense. But that was Bertha Riehl for you. She didn’t mince words and she didn’t hold back her opinions. And she had plenty of both.

On this sunny day, Bertha handed him a broom. “When you’re done sweeping out the hay loft, you need to clean out the ashes in the chimbley place.” She bent over to pick up her favorite rooster, a fourteen-year-old leghorn named Otto, who followed her around the farm. Bertha tucked Otto under her arm, football-style, and headed up the hill to the farmhouse. Her left side was flanked by Boomer, a big black dog who had appeared one day and never left.

“You gonna finally cook that ol’ rooster for dinner, Bertha?” Billy said, grinning.

“Been giving it some serious thought,” she called over her shoulder, stroking Otto’s feathers like he was a pampered housecat.

Bertha was always threatening Otto was going to end up as Sunday’s stew, but Billy knew better. Bertha Riehl was all bluff and bluster. Well, mostly bluff and bluster. He couldn’t deny she had a way of intimidating folks that was a wonder to behold. It had happened to Billy only once, when he made the mistake of asking her if she was six feet tall. Bertha planted her fists on her deluxe-sized hips and narrowed her eyes at him. “I am five feet twelve inches.” Then she stared him down until he was sure he had shrunk an inch or two, right in front of her.

From the kitchen door of the sprawling brick-and-frame farmhouse, Bertha turned and hollered at Billy. “Es is noch lang net faercih wann’s yuscht halwe gedus is!”
Half done is far from done!

He dashed into the barn and picked up where he left off, sweeping the concrete floor with a dash and a fury. One thing to be grateful for, he thought as hay and dust flew up around him, the day of Bess’s arrival had finally come.

Jonah Riehl was seeing his daughter, Bess, off at the bus station in Berlin, Ohio. He handed her a ham sandwich for lunch and bus fare for the return ticket home. Bess would be spending the entire summer at his mother’s farm in Stoney Ridge, Pennsylvania. His mother had written recently to say she had suffered through some female surgery and could Bess please come? She was in dire need of someone to help.

Jonah knew it couldn’t be true that his mother needed help. Bertha had lived in Stoney Ridge all of her life and had plenty of sisters, cousins, and neighbors she could count on. Wasn’t that what being Plain was all about?

And yet he couldn’t rest easy telling his mother that Bess wouldn’t come this summer. His mother was getting up there in years, and she was the type who had never been young to begin with. A few years back, Jonah’s father, Samuel, had an accident while cutting timber. A big tree fell into a smaller tree, and the smaller trunk snapped under the weight, striking Samuel with terrific force in the forehead. He died seven days later. After his father’s funeral, Jonah had invited his mother to come live with them in Ohio. She said no, she wanted to stay on the home place. Still, he knew his mother had a difficult time, losing her partner of so many years. Bertha Riehl did like she always did: she dug in her heels and made do with life as it was.

So, in the end, Jonah showed Bess the letter from his mother.

“The whole summer?” Bess shook her head. “I can’t leave you, Dad. You need me around here.”

He couldn’t deny that. It was just the two of them rattling around in the house. He hadn’t wanted to think of summer without his Bess—much less about the fact that she was growing up so quickly. It wouldn’t be long before boys would start buzzing around her. Too soon, she would have a life of her own. It was the natural order of things, he knew, the way things were meant to be, but it still grieved him to think of it. So much so that he had written a letter to his mother to say he couldn’t spare Bess.

That very afternoon, before he had a chance to mail the letter, Bess came home from school and announced a change of heart. She would go to Stoney Ridge, after all. “It’s the right thing to do, and you’re always telling me that we need to do the right thing,” she said with a dramatic flair.

It still puzzled him why she had flip-flopped on the topic.

Now the loudspeaker was announcing the bus’s departure, and Jonah’s eyes got blurry. “Be careful, Bess,” he said, “because—”

“—because you think I’m five, not fifteen.” She smiled at him.

Jonah clamped his mouth shut. Bess teased him that each time he said goodbye to her, even as she left for school each morning, he would add the caution, “Be careful, because . . .”
Because . . . I won’t be there to protect you. Because . . . accidents happen.
He knew that to be true. At any given moment, anything at all could happen. He brushed a few stray hairs from her forehead and gave her shoulders a quick squeeze, his way of saying that he loved her and would miss her.

As the bus pulled out of the station and Bess waved goodbye to her father, it was her turn for blurry eyes. She had visited Stoney Ridge only one other time, for her grandfather’s funeral. That time, her father was with her. Now, it was just her. At the other end of the trip—Mammi. And no Daadi to soften her grandmother’s rough edges. Bess had adored her grandfather. He came to visit them in Ohio every other year—as often as he could. He was a tenderhearted man, as lean and lanky as Mammi was wide and round.

As Bess watched the phone lines swoop up and down to each pole along the road, she remembered what wouldn’t be there—no phone in the barn, like at home. No bicycles, only scooters. And no indoor plumbing. When she asked her father why her grandmother still used a privy despite knowing that their district allowed plumbing, he told her that his mother was a woman who held on tight to the old ways. “If it isn’t broke, why fix it?” was her life motto, he said.

Hours later, when the Greyhound bus pulled into Stoney Ridge, Bess climbed down the steps onto the sidewalk. The driver yanked her suitcase from the belly of the bus and thumped it down next to her. There Bess stood at the end of the world with all her worldly possessions. Her suitcase and Blackie, her cat.

Blackie had traveled in a picnic hamper and spent most of the trip trying to claw his way out. As Bess set down the hamper and looked around, a small knot of fear rose in her throat. She assumed her grandmother would be here waiting for her. What if she had forgotten Bess was coming? What if no one came to meet her? How would she ever find the farmhouse? Maybe her grandmother had gotten even sicker since her female surgery. Maybe Bess had come too late and Mammi had up and died. Bess had to shield her eyes from the late afternoon sun, beating down on her. She was tired from the long, hot ride and briefly thought about getting back on the stuffy bus to head home. Home to her father, Ohio, and all that was familiar.

Bess sat down on top of her suitcase. These were the moments in life when she wondered if her mother was up there in heaven looking down at her now and maybe trying to figure out how to help her. She loved imagining what her mother was like, what she’d say or do. She never tired of hearing stories about her from her father. She hoped that she might be able to find out even more from her grandmother this summer. That is, assuming she could ever locate Mammi. She shaded her eyes to look as far down the street as she could.

Bess let out a sigh of relief when she saw a horse and a gray-topped buggy veering around the corner. The buggy tipped so far to the right, Bess worried it might topple right over. The horse stopped abruptly right next to Bess, and the buggy tipped even more sharply as her grandmother disembarked. Land sakes, but she was enormous. Bess hadn’t seen Mammi in three years, and she was even bigger. Taller still with her large black bonnet. She had several chins with wattles like a turkey. She drew nearer to Bess till she blotted out the sun.

“Where’s your father?” Mammi asked, looking up and down the platform.

“He didn’t come,” Bess said. “I’m old enough to travel alone.”

For a long moment, Mammi stared at her. Then something passed through those dark brown eyes, something Bess couldn’t quite make out. Irritation? Or disappointment, maybe? Whatever it was, she shook it off in a flash.

“Old enough, are you?” Mammi hooked her hands on her hips and looked Bess up and down. “You look like you need a dose of salts and a square meal.” The picnic hamper in Bess’s hand quivered and Mammi noticed. She pointed to it. “What’s that?”

“Blackie,” Bess said. “My cat.”

“Hoo-boy,” Mammi said. “Better be a good mouser.”

With a powerful arm, she swung Bess’s suitcase aboard the buggy, lifting it high as if it was a feather. “Well, make haste.” She climbed into the buggy and Bess hurried to join her. A big black dog with a muzzle of white hair sat in the back and leaned his head forward to sniff Bess. He must have decided Bess passed inspection because he gave her ear a lick. “That’s Boomer,” Mammi said. “He showed up out of the blue one day after my Samuel passed.”

“Boomer?” Bess asked, trying to push the dog back. “Where’d you get a name like Boomer?” The dog sniffed out the hamper with great interest. Blackie let out a hissing sound and Boomer drew back.

Mammi shrugged. “Wait’ll you hear his bark. Sounds like a blast of dynamite.”

Boomer settled down onto the buggy floor and fell asleep.

“A good guard dog,” Bess said, trying to be friendly.

Mammi snorted, but she dropped a big hand to stroke Boomer’s head. “The day that dog barks at anything worth barking at is the day there’ll be white blackbirds in the sky.”

“Mammi, do you want me to drive? You must not be feeling too well after your female surgery and all.” Bess hoped she might say yes. She enjoyed driving horses. Some of her fondest memories were sitting with her father on the plow, holding the giant draft horses’ reins in her small hands, his big hands covering hers.

“Female surgery?” Mammi gave her a blank look. “Oh. Oh! Had my teeth pulled.” She opened her mouth wide and clicked her teeth. “Store-bought choppers. As good as new.”

Then what am I doing here?
Bess wondered.

BOOK: The Search
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